It may very well tell you everything you need to know about Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waiti that the next project on the writer/director's calendar is a small indie comedy called Corpse Tub that looks to be about as far away from the Marvel universe as a film could possibly get.
For a second there, I was worried that my beloved Waititi, director of such quirky low-budget wonders as Eagle vs. Shark, Hunter for the Wilderpeople, and What We Do in the Shadows, might actually leave the indie world behind now that he's entered the big budget Marvel universe and proven a myriad of naysayers wrong who predicted the beloved indie director's quirky sensibilities wouldn't translate successfully to the complex, demanding and fiercely protected Marvel Comics Universe.
The simple truth is that Thor: Ragnarok is not only the best of the Thor films, not exactly a challenging task, but it's damn near one of the best of the Marvel films to date.
Thor: Ragnarok finds Thor (Chris Hemsworth) imprisoned on the other side of the universe with his hammer nowhere to be found. With his beloved homeland of Asgard at risk of destruction, Thor must race against time to stop the ruthless Hela (Cate Blanchett) while first surviving a deadly gladiatorial battle that pits him against former ally and fellow Avenger The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
Somehow, Waititi has managed to be both faithful to the Marvel Universe and faithful to his own artistic sensibilities, sensibilities that weave themselves together here and turn Thor: Ragnarok into a film that is simultaneously awesome to watch, freakishly charming, strangely odd and completely and utterly enjoyable even when it doesn't always quite work.
Oh, and it doesn't always quite work. Who cares?
Most days, I have to confess that I'd fancy a good old-fashioned low-budget Waititi film over anything the Marvel Universe has managed to bring out. But, seriously. Why not have both?
Thor: Ragnarok is both.
However, the success of Thor: Ragnarok isn't just some dumb luck. Waititi, whose background as an actor has likely contributed to his being an actor's director, has coaxed pretty incredible performances from his ensemble cast and for the first time, certainly among the Thor films, they all seem to be having a blast.
Thor: Ragnarok is really the first time that Hemsworth has really lived into the fullness of Thor's potential, still smashingly handsome yet also charmingly funny, terrifically charismatic and just ridiculously on point here in a way the other Thor appearances just never came close to achieving. He's still got a terrific chemistry with his brother, Loki, though Hiddleston actually lowers his performance a notch and gives Hemsworth plenty of room to shine. In the end, they both shine brightly.
Oh, and I don't think it's a spoiler to mention that Loki is, in fact, around here. I mean, you have seen the trailers. Right?
There's also the discovery of an older sister neither Loki nor Thor knew existed, Hela, played to hella perfection by Cate Blanchett who takes that whole Goddess of Death moniker rather seriously.
Jeff Goldblum, who along with Mark Ruffalo is one of the few American actors in the film, is an absolute blast as the Grandmaster, ruler of a tossaway planet called Saakar and a guy with a seriously casual evil streak and a warped sense of fun. He's taken to organizing gladiator matches with his current champ being none other than our favorite green guy. Speaking of that favorite green guy, Mark Ruffalo continues to take The Incredible Hulk in places no one who's ever played the part has ever imagined and this variation on Hulk is much more deeply felt, richly developed, and remarkably funny.
Tessa Thompson is terrific as Valkyrie, though Thor: Ragnarok doesn't do nearly enough with her. The same is true for Benedict Cumberbatch's Dr. Strange appearance, an entirely satisfying if not remotely necessary story thread.There are other supporting players who also seem to appear far too briefly and for seemingly little purpose other than, I'd imagine, establishing plot points for future cinematic productions.
However, these are all relatively minor quibbles. Thor: Ragnarok may feature a paper thin plot and those obligatory Marvel moments, including an action climax that will please the fanboys but mostly feels unnecessary within the scheme of things, but Thor: Ragnarok is also an immensely entertaining and emotionally satisfying film that may not please all the purists who will point out deviations from the comics but will ultimately leave the vast majority of moviegoers feeling mightily entertained.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic